Of Tears and Tears and Daisies

Sometimes when you’ve been to the top of the mountain, coming down into the valley of every day life feels more like hitting the skids. When you’ve spent time tucked back into the redwoods in the mountains focusing on the swaying of the tippy-tops of the trees and the way the light touches just that leaf there and tracking the path of the dragonfly, when your path collides with that of someone else and you realize your sisterhood runs deeper than you could ever have imagined, when you pray so deep the tears come and then when God answers so loudly you have nothing but silent awe, when all of that holiness and sacred ground walking and tender communion ends because life… well, sometimes life feels worse, even when it isn’t.

That’s where I’m at this morning, kinda like Jonah wrapped in seaweed sinking to roots of the mountains. But I haven’t really left Joppa. I’m still on solid ground. But the airplanes I’m supposed to build while brushing my teeth, and her morning snarl, and his need to build a crane and race track before school, and that comment hubby made before leaving for work, and the “he touched me” and “she looked at me mean,” and the child crying in the corner because mommy can’t fold the airplane right and she’s frustrated by airplanes and toothpaste drooling down her chin and she’s asked that child to get dressed and that feels like separation and punishment but mommy is just pleading “get dressed” because she needs a moment to wipe the toothpaste off her chin and to address the labels coming fast across her radar… loser, wreck, failure.

These are the labels that on the mountain I had thought were thrown away, were banished from my brain. Alas, they were lurking in the shadows of my new labels. Princess, adored, adopted into God’s family, beloved, redeemed and righteous. These are the true labels, God’s names for me. But when the morning started too early, and the washing machine fritzed again, and when I toss the ball to her on the playground and she snarls and I take that to mean that she’s not interested and so I stop and then she says I’m excluding her… yah, when all that hunkers down… and there are dead fish in the tank that have to be removed in secrecy, and another mom is telling me it’s breast cancer awareness day at the middle school and everyone is supposed to wear pink and I’m concerned about boys wearing pink and is that emasculating them, and he asks for the 15th time today “what are we doing tomorrow,” and that girl stuck her tongue out at my boy on the playground, and I had to pull him off another boy because wrestling isn’t allowed in school, and … really I’m on a wild hamster ball ride of self-loathing and criticism. Am I raising children who can’t fend for themselves? Am I enabling them and sheltering them and just being the tiger mom of the century?

And my friend sends me a text this morning. She speaks truth plain and loud. She writes, “Made in the image of God! That’s what it says. But You (God) and I both know that my image feels less than ‘complete.’ Life wears me down and struggles take bits and pieces of me. But maybe You mean… our ‘image’ with the tattered, torn places is just a way to share your tattered, torn body with others. Even the worn and weary can reflect Your beauty and … still smell great. ‘Now He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God.’ 2 Corinthians 2:14-15a.”

And she includes a picture she snapped of a little torn-up daisy reaching its yellow sunshine upward, giving it back to the life-giver.IMG954621

Gotta lay some things down here. Gotta drop some tears, gotta assess the tears I’m making, and they can be one in the same, the tears and the tears. Noun and verb create each other.

Back on that mountain, I heard loud and clear “beloved” and “adopted” and adoption was acceptance and not rejection and beloved was deep and not performance based. And here I am made in the image and if I’m made in the image I can’t also be loser, wreck, failure. Because each tear (verb) is another slit for the glory of God to shine through. Each tear (noun) is a prism for diffusing His light, distilling it into fractals of color.

There are plenty of holes in my petals, rips in my jeans, dents in my fenders, dirt in my nails. The wounds of life, the scars of walking through the valley. But the truths of the mountain, those truths carry down here too. Even more so down here.

So, old habit of self-loathing and criticism, I must tear you up, stop my ears to your siren-song. Life is too short to bemoan the holes in the petals. Because those holes are beautiful and fragrant and that friend I met on the mountain needed to hear about my holes because her holes look strangely like mine and we needed to hear that about each other. And how many other daisies have these holes? And how is God going to use those holes for His glory?

I want to stomp on the old labels. I want to beat them to a pulp, those old lies.

I hear this song and I hear these words like I’ve never heard them before:

So I’ll stop living off of how I feel
And start standing on Your truth revealed
Jesus is my strength, my shield
And He will never fail me

No more chains, I’ve been set free
No more fighting battles You’ve won for me
Now in Christ, I stand complete

Yes and yes and yes again. I’ll stop living off of how I feel because how I feel is performance based and conditional and fed by lies. But His truth is and was and forever will be. Like that daisy, I will lift my tatters to the sunshine, giving back to the life-giver.

A Love Song

Every now and then, I pause and hover. Before the lights go up, before the moaning and the groaning start in, before we begin our daily journey, our ripping and shredding of hearts, our growing and pruning, our banter and loving so strong it hurts, before all that I have to pause. Over eyelids and lips pursed in a sleep kiss, over hair fanning across the pillow, and stillness that takes my breath away. It’s because for a second I am transported back to early days when your little bird eyes searched my face, rolled back in your heads as the milk came in and you drank with lavish pleasure. It’s because the sleep face is the baby face of yesterday before the grown-up, growing up. It’s the face of contentment and innocence before the hurts and comparisons and strivings to be accepted settle in. I need to see what you were, sometimes, to better see where we’re going on this quest for adulthood, independence, whateverness, and to ground me again in motherhood.

I paused this morning over you, my son, taken aback for second as I waited to see you breath. And your body shook when I brushed the quilt from your face and you sighed and my heart flipflopped. Pounding out a love song to my waking boy.

The heart flipflop. You brought it again as you climbed out of the car to walk to school. You, my oldest, my mini-woman, my little girl going through the Rites of Passage… braces, the popular crowd stuff… who doesn’t want to play with little brother anymore, who doesn’t know what she wants half the time, you say, “I wish I lived in Africa so I wouldn’t have to go to school.”

Child, I don’t think you know what you are saying. And I’m sure you are speaking for effect, not out of any great desire to see it come to fruition. But I’ve read Beatrice’s Goat with you about the dear Ugandan girl who wants so desperately to go to school but her family doesn’t have the funds for the uniform or the books… at least until they receive a Heifer International goat and that changes everything. You have read the letters from Prossy in Uganda, our sponsored child, your African sister, and you’ve seen her joy at learning. And goodness knows I’ve talked your ear off about “those less fortunate.” Maybe my words have just become gibberish in your ears.

Is it typical tween behavior… this incessant focus on “me?” Or have I somehow fostered it, an unwanted consequence of the life of privilege your father and I have provided? Am I even being fair? Because it may be that your heart beats stronger for others than your peers. I can’t tell.

But privilege you have. That is true. And blessing and we can hardly compare ourselves with others, and yet, the comparisons are there, constantly. The “why can’t I have” and “why can’t I do” comparisons that point out where someone has it better than you, despite your 100 other ways of having it better than them in the first place.

It breaks my heart, this discontent.

You, son, get in the car after school and run through your laundry list of people you want to play with this afternoon and when I say no because we have homework and people working in the kitchen, you slump ugly and accuse me of never letting you have a play date and of always letting sister have sleep overs. I hit the brakes. “Always” is a lie here. And if sister were here she would complain that you always get play dates and she never does. This discontent, it is the work of the Devil.

There is clearly evil walking Africa. War lords, poverty, tribal unrest, insufficient supplies, food, work, housing, peace. My newsfeeds daily point to the want, to the poorest parts of Africa, to stories of children left behind because of AIDS, war, poverty, handicaps, because it is just too much to feed another mouth.

There is evil walking America too. It’s in the discontent. It’s looking over the fence and saying, “Things are better there.” It’s refusing to see what you have and seeking something more instead. It’s bitter complaint rather than lavish praise and gratitude.

And here, my dear children, Mommy bows down too. I’m just as guilty as you. I understand your wanting. Something “new” will certainly “fill the void.” But there is no void, not really. All we really need we have.

The other day, your uncle prayed for our comfort to be restored, for our kitchen to be restored to its previous state. It curled my toenails a little. Discomfort is God’s pruning. And perhaps it is necessary to shape us better, cleaner, brighter and for that we should be thankful.

Of course, you’re going to have to come to this realization on your own. Mommy’s preaching will only reach so far; experience will be the better teacher.

But I look back at where we were… at sleeping in bliss, milk coma rapture, joy at every flower, butterfly, goose, doggie, book… contentment found in a clean diaper, a full belly, a warm hug… and I am grateful for those memories. There were times of contentment, there will be times again. I love you deeply and will walk this road with you, will weather the pruning beside you, and will cheer you on toward the goal. Find the things to relish, children. The world is full of them!

This I Know

I walked my daughter to her bus, a big charter, the last of 3, took her picture as she signed in with the teacher, took another as she climbed aboard, thankful for the camera hiding the tears in my eyes.
A myriad of moms laughed. “You’re not crying are you?” Ha ha!
Others assured me that she was going to be fine and that she was going to have a great time. I know that deep, deep down in my toes, because I’ve asked Jesus to stay by her the whole time. And He will be there… this I know. He always is.
She smiled big and blew me a kiss as the bus pulled out of the school parking lot. And my baby girl, my first big blessing, my first shooting star of a promise from God, headed out to be with her 5th grade classmates at Outdoor Ed for the next 3 days.
And there’s a sense that this is a rite of passage, that she’s going to come back a little more grown-up, a little more individual and dare we hope responsible, a little wiser, a little less in need of a good mommy. I think that’s why the tears.
I had a conversation in the grocery store yesterday with a mom also sending off her daughter but simultaneously sending off her 22 year old son… off to live his life on the other side of the country with a girlfriend. And she felt a sadness that all those nights of worry and loving and care… all have paid off and he’s done what he’s supposed to do which is to grow up and be self-sufficient… but where is her mommy role now in his life. Where does she fit in?
And last Friday at the Fall Festival I talked with a mom whose middle school son may or may not be struggling with his grades. Mom is trying to back off and let him do his thing, which is the party line of the middle school faculty anyway. But she’s shrugging her shoulders and sighing and asking, “What’s a mom to do?” And under that sigh she’s really wondering what her role is, what is her sphere of influence, does she even have a sphere of influence with him anymore.
I stepped up on my portable pulpit for a minute and preached it… God blesses us with children, they are truly a gift from Him, and it is our beholden duty as parents to lead these children even in the face of faculty saying they have to do it themselves. Borrowing a line from my husband, “as long as those children are under our roof,” it is imperative that we lead them, guide them, defend them, love them, model in our imperfect way the kind of solidarity God has with us.
So, this comes through from the Rainey’s, on their Moments Together for Couples daily devotional online…
“You will pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength. PSALM 31:4
Try to picture this scene: With 50,000 men watching intensely, a 15-year-old young man, Trent—blindfolded and barefoot—begins stepping cautiously across an outdoor stage. Before him are a dozen steel animal traps with their jaws wide open. Each is labeled with words like “peer pressure,” “drugs and alcohol,” “sexual immorality,” “rebellion” and “pornography”—the “traps” that can
easily ensnare teenagers today.
Right beside me, on the opposite end of the platform and the traps, stands the boy’s father, Tom, anticipating his son’s every move. After two tentative steps, the boy’s third step places him directly in the path of the biggest snare on the stage—a bear trap powerful enough to absolutely crush his leg. (It had taken three grown men just to set it.)
Before his son can raise another foot, Tom yells into the microphone, “Trent, stop! Don’t take another step!” Circling the traps, he positions himself in between his son and the bear trap. After whispering some instructions, he turns his back to the boy. Trent eagerly places his hands on his father’s shoulders. Then slowly, they begin navigating the trap field together.
When the two finally reached me and we took the blindfold off, father and son hugged each other. Applause at this Promise Keepers event swelled to a thunderous standing ovation across the stadium. Above the roar, I shouted through the sound system, “Men, that’s what God has called us to as fathers—to be there and guide our children through the traps of adolescence!”
For Tom and Trent, the trap demonstration was a setup on a stage. But for you and your teen, the traps of adolescence are all too real and treacherous.
Don’t allow your children to risk the journey on their own. Grab them by the hand, watch your step, and move out together. Let God guide you through.”

This morning! As I’m packing the last of her things! For the next three days, I’m not going to be there to walk in front of her and guide her through the minefield. But that’s okay because Jesus is. This I know, for the Bible tells me so.

And then I see Davion’s impassioned plea for a family. It was on my radar a week or two ago, but it popped up again thanks to Kristen over at Rage Against the Minivan. In case you’ve been hiding under a rock, Davion asked his social worker to take him to church one Sunday; he had a message to deliver. The message was that he wanted a permanent family; “I’ll take anyone,” he told the congregation. “Old or young, dad or mom, black, white, purple. I don’t care.” This young man has been in the foster system and he’s tired of not belonging. Just like the 101,000 plus kids waiting for a family in the US right now.

So, I’ve prayed over Clara, who is afraid of bees and bee stings and is apprehensive that she might get stung while she’s at camp and no one will know what to do. I’ve packed a surprise for her… brand new pajamas with the school logo… the ones she has been yearning after. I’ve labeled everything, right down to her socks and unmentionables. It’s all

organized, prayed over, loved on, even those smelly shoes (Heaven help her cabin-mates when the shoes come off).

And it dawns on me.

There are children for whom there is no Outdoor Ed, no mom crying on the sidewalk, no paparazzi photographing every move for posterity sake. There are children for whom no one is praying, for whom there is no soft bed laden with pillows and a mother’s gentle kiss and a father’s blessing. There are children who don’t know the kind of love and joy of a parent who marvels at their accomplishments, who cheers for them, defends them, leads them through the minefield of life.
These are the Davions of our country. And the Scovias of the world around us.

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Wendy Bjurstrom of CompassioNow with Scovia

Scovia is a 14 year old girl living in Uganda. Her mother and father were both dead by the time she was 5; her father was killed by the LRA. Scovia now lives with her aunt and her family. They eat one meal a day… posho and beans. And Scovia is hoping to go to high school, if her grades are good and if she has the money, if she has the sponsorship. There are actually several thousand Scovias in Uganda, children who have seen their parents die of disease or be killed by the LRA, who have been rejected by family because they were abducted by the LRA, who run the family of younger siblings despite their own tender age. It’s estimated that 66,000 children were abducted during the 23 year war in Uganda. Millions have been displaced, killed, and maimed. Read the sponsorship page at Village of Hope sometime. Watch this video.

Oh my gosh. The children.

So I sit here on my knees, praying for Jesus to be with them too. Because Jesus loves them, too. This I know. But do they? Do they see that love daily in the face of a mom who would split the waters, race the desert, climb to the heavens if necessary? Do they hear it in the instruction of a fatherly voice? And if not… how do we… teach it, preach it, lead, guide, and defend?

Davion said, “I want someone who will love me until I die.” Don’t we all? Jesus, come and rest by these children.

(For another really good perspective, read Kristen at Rage Against the Minivan’s thoughts on the matter.)

Taking It On The Road

“That heart ache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something.”

Some day there will not be quiche ground into the carpets. Some day, there won’t be plastic cheese stick wrappers strewn about like so much tinsel. Some day, I won’t move a pile of clothes from the center seat and discover breakfast and last week’s homework. Some day. That day is definitely not today. And yes, I’m describing my car… the mobile city dump that it has become. Hubby keeps telling me I should institute a “no food in the car” policy. After all, it works for him the 2.3 times a week he transports the kids. I keep telling him that is as unrealistic as my asking him to enjoy shopping. Seriously, we live in the car… and I mean LIVE.

(Before you discount me as completely wacky and gross, I do clean the car regularly. Me and the shop vac are tight friends. Should we ever need to replace my car, I think maybe procuring a used mail truck, outfitting it with a microwave and a sink, and a few places to strap children would be ultimately practical and preferable.)

This morning when I woke up, like so many mornings lately, I struggled to discern which day of the week it was. The days all seem to gel like yesterday’s gravy into an amorphous state of repetition.  Yet, what was more important than the day was where I needed to point the car. Because direction is most important and logistics are a close second.

As we get ramped up for school and the daily grind, as we round out the summer with last minute camps and play dates, as we try to wring the last elements of freedom from a jam-packed summer as though once school starts there won’t be time for freedom, I am faced with a realization. My days of stay-at-home mom are essentially over. I am now mobile mama, taking the act on the road. The quiet afternoons at home for nap time, the leisurely time at the park playing, the let’s-stay-home-today kind of days that work for toddlers and preschoolers… they are a thing of the past. My role has morphed into a sort of food truck purveyor/ taxi driver/ U-Haul schleper of gear, snacks, a change of clothes, a kind smile, and a fresh water bottle. I should just hook up the trailer and drive that around town because our lives together are now spent traveling from event to event and my time with my kids is the 15 minutes between when one event ends and the next begins.

That isn’t much time to undo/redo/balance the messages each child receives outside of my influence. And yet, that remains my most important role… to shape my children, with God’s grace and guidance, into children who share His light wherever they go. Filtering and vetting are more important now than ever as I spend less time with them. My role is on the sidelines, backstage, behind the steering wheel. I’m trying to keep pertinent by joining in when I can… hopping on the horse for my own lesson, managing and volunteering. But coaches, teachers, the world outside my walls are the heavy influencers these days. And I must be intentional in what and who I allow to influence.

I must also be intentional in using those precious moments in the mommy mobile to mold and shape my kiddos. Glennon over at Momastery recently shared this letter to her kids, a letter she reads every night before school starts. I think it’s brilliant, intentional, and such a spot-on definition of compassion. Because this is where it counts most.

Dear Chase,
Hey, baby.
Tomorrow is a big day. Third grade – wow.
Chase – When I was in third grade, there was a little boy in my class named Adam.
Adam looked a little different and he wore funny clothes and sometimes he even smelled a little bit. Adam didn’t smile. He hung his head low and he never looked at anyone at all. Adam never did his homework. I don’t think his parents reminded him like yours do. The other kids teased Adam a lot. Whenever they did, his head hung lower and lower and lower. I never teased him, but I never told the other kids to stop, either.
And I never talked to Adam, not once. I never invited him to sit next to me at lunch, or to play with me at recess. Instead, he sat and played by himself. He must have been very lonely.
I still think about Adam every day. I wonder if Adam remembers me? Probably not. I bet if I’d asked him to play, just once, he’d still remember me.
I think that God puts people in our lives as gifts to us. The children in your class this year, they are some of God’s gifts to you.
So please treat each one like a gift from God. Every single one.
Baby, if you see a child being left out, or hurt, or teased, a part of your heart will hurt a little. Your daddy and I want you to trust that heart- ache. Your whole life, we want you to notice and trust your heart-ache. That heart ache is called compassion, and it is God’s signal to you to do something. It is God saying, Chase! Wake up! One of my babies is hurting! Do something to help! Whenever you feel compassion – be thrilled! It means God is speaking to you, and that is magic. It means He trusts you and needs you.
Sometimes the magic of compassion will make you step into the middle of a bad situation right away.
Compassion might lead you to tell a teaser to stop it and then ask the teased kid to play. You might invite a left-out kid to sit next to you at lunch. You might choose a kid for your team first who usually gets chosen last. These things will be hard to do, but you can do hard things.
Sometimes you will feel compassion but you won’t step in right away. That’s okay, too. You might choose instead to tell your teacher and then tell us. We are on your team – we are on your whole class’s team. Asking for help for someone who is hurting is not tattling, it is doing the right thing. If someone in your class needs help, please tell me, baby. We will make a plan to help together.
When God speaks to you by making your heart hurt for another, by giving you compassion, just do something. Please do not ignore God whispering to you. I so wish I had not ignored God when He spoke to me about Adam. I remember Him trying, I remember feeling compassion, but I chose fear over compassion. I wish I hadn’t. Adam could have used a friend and I could have, too.
Chase – We do not care if you are the smartest or fastest or coolest or funniest. There will be lots of contests at school, and we don’t care if you win a single one of them. We don’t care if you get straight As. We don’t care if the girls think you’re cute or whether you’re picked first or last for kickball at recess. We don’t care if you are your teacher’s favorite or not. We don’t care if you have the best clothes or most Pokemon cards or coolest gadgets. We just don’t care.
We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
Kind people are brave people. Brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.
Trust me, baby, it is. It is more important.
Don’t try to be the best this year, honey.
Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.
Take care of those classmates of yours, and your teacher, too. You Belong to Each Other. You are one lucky boy . . . with all of these new gifts to unwrap this year.
I love you so much that my heart might explode.
Enjoy and cherish your gifts.
And thank you for being my favorite gift of all time.

I think I’m going to print this out and mount it to the front of the glove box or hang it from the moon roof. Maybe make stickers out of it to paste on windows. Wonder if I could paint some interior part of the car with chalkboard paint or mount a magnet board somewhere? Intentional. It’s a short period of time, but the world depends on it. I can’t let the days slip by, the world influence in ways I wouldn’t agree to; I can’t let compassion and goodness and kindness and God-centered living go untaught. I’ve got 15 minutes and 15 minutes and 15 minutes. Go!

Until Next Year

Ah, Christmas is over. We’ve cheered in the New Year. And now we take down the greenery, fold away the stockings, roll up the lights, wrap up the Nativity or the Menorah, and breath a deep sigh of relief. We made it through what may in fact be the most difficult time of the year instead of “the most wonderful time of the year.” I’m not talking about the Christmas rush, the hustle of shopping, the agony of late night wrapping sprees, the stress of following tradition to the letter. I’m talking about making it through Christmas dinner without someone spoiling the figgy pudding. Let’s face it, few of us live the Norman Rockwell version of holiday gatherings. In reality, more of us can relate to the Griswold family (National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation) or the McCallister family (Home Alone). Black sheep, skeletons, wacky family members, difficult personalities, battles never resolved or released, political or religious differences all threaten to rock the boat, dredge up real and perceived hurts, rip off the metaphorical band-aids so carefully applied, shake loose feuds years if not decades old. If we can get through the togetherness of the holidays without further scarring, we count it a blessing. There has to be a Keep Calm and Carry On mentality for the holidays.

I needed some new Christmas music this year. I was feeling a little bored. So, I downloaded Jason Gray’s new Christmas album, Christmas Stories… Repeat the Sounding Joy. Each song on the album corresponds to a character in the Biblical Christmas story. From the song “I Will Find a Way” which ponders God’s view of how to reach his people to the innkeeper’s song “Rest” which speaks loudly to our own need to put aside the busyness of life in order to see what is happening in front of our nose, the album is a collection of thought-provoking songs that retell the Christmas story in a way that is accessible to us today. The song for Joseph has haunted me, however. Titled “Forgiveness Is a Miracle,” the song contemplates Joseph’s reaction and role in the story. Was he bitter, raging over betrayal, or did he cry in disappointment? Was there pain and vengeance at first?

“When love is like an open wound there’s no way to stop the bleeding. Did you lose sleep over what to do? Between what’s just and what brings healing? Pain can be the road to find compassion when we don’t understand and bring a better end. It takes a miracle to show us… forgiveness is a miracle. And a miracle can change your world… The forgiveness that you gave would be given back to you because you carried in your heart what she was holding in her womb. Love was in a crowded barn. There you were beside her kneeling.… You held it in your arms as the miracle started breathing… and the miracle will save the world.
Blessed Joseph, your heart has proven  and through you the kingdom has come. For God delights in a man of mercy and has found an earthly father for his son.”

As a member and volunteer at Compassion Tea now for a year and a half, I’ve found myself asking what does compassion look like off the page. How does that play out in daily life? Is it random acts of kindness, paying it forward, smiling and exhibiting patience in difficult circumstances, not smelling like the world? Is it sending money, shoeboxes, animals, medical supplies to people in far away places? This song suggests that compassion is found in forgiveness. Sounds easy, delightfully so, right!
I find myself telling the kids all the time, “Say you’re sorry.” Whether it is a slight push, a rolling of the eyes, a perceived-to-be-malicious bump, they come screaming to me about how they’ve been wronged. Often times, when we dig through it together it is a miscommunication or misunderstanding. But bending your will and your pride to admit wrongdoing can be excruciating. When Clara was smaller, and she was asked to apologize to someone, she would dissolve into a puddle of tears. She couldn’t bring herself to apologize. She was so ashamed or frightened to admit wrongdoing that she would prefer to ignore it. Facing our own ugliness is not that appealing. And letting go and forgiving? Equally painful.

But “Pain can be the road to find compassion….” croons Gray. Looking deep into the pain can bring us a better understanding of motive, of the woundedness inside the perpetrator. Peeling off layers of onion makes me cry every time. Searching through the pain surrounding a situation can too. It’s the proverbial “walk a mile in a man’s moccasins” kind of thinking. “Put yourself in his shoes.” But how do we get out of our own tightly-tied tennies to try on someone else’s?

I can’t really offer an answer. I struggle with this daily. There are wounds deep and decades long that are dug deeper and longer with each passing day. To forgive for the past is difficult when the present sees the same injuries being perpetrated. Will it ever stop? Will he/she/the situation ever change?

How many times have I told my kids that the only thing they can change about situations is themselves? We can change our outlook, our attitude, our understanding. But we can’t change others, as much as we would like to. So, I suppose compassion looks like changing one’s attitude or understanding to listen and look deep into the pain of another even if that person has hurt us. But don’t stop and grovel. Climbing down into the mire with another gets you both stuck in the mud.

“Forgiveness is a miracle.…” Gray turns the phrase later in the song to “Forgiveness is the miracle.” The simplicity of a changed article! When God sent Jesus in the form of a baby boy on the night we now celebrate as Christmas, He knew in advance what the end outcome would be. He had announced it multiple times to His prophets, He had set the stage with decrees about atonements and sacrifices, He had repeatedly shown mercy and forgiveness to His people even though they consistently turned away from Him to worship the works of their own hands. And as soon as he began preaching, Jesus referenced it as well. His death was the necessary sacrifice to once and for all time wipe away the sins of the world. Through belief in his death and resurrection, the deadness of sin can be thrown off and the life of a forgiven person can be lived.

Yesterday, Joseph asked me what Christmas has to do with Easter. Everything! You can’t have the one without the other. And thank goodness. Because of His example of forgiveness and His promise of forgiveness, we can trust God to work in every situation and every heart. He, the great big creator of the universe and of little bitty me and you, is the only one who can bring about the change that leads to forgiveness and reconciliation. No, don’t climb down into the mire with another who has wronged you. Stop, look, listen, and then offer the hand of God’s grace. Be a man of mercy, prayerfully asking for your own forgiveness and for the reconciliation that only God can bring. He sent us His son, every single one of us; He can drag anyone out of the mire.

With an eye to the new year, I find myself wondering in and through what ways God is going to bring His forgiveness to the world this year and how He will use you and me. Compassion, mercy, forgiveness… what will that look like this time next year? How will that change our 2013 holiday dinners?

Take Shelter

Eggs in an incubator for three weeks. Preschool students making weekly field trips to visit the eggs. And then, on the anticipated day, listen, do you hear it? A chirp! There’s a tapping on that egg! Do you see the crack? Chicks, wet and tiny, start breaking free, triumphing over all the forces against them… being mailed, being jostled by preschool kids, chromosomal mishaps, the threat of unsustainable life, of being incompatible with life. The next round of worries begins for these little lives. The children gathered around, hovering over the incubator, marvel at how that little bird was once scrunched inside the egg. “How did it fit? How did it get there? Can I hold it?” So goes the steady stream of questions surrounding this birth, this new beginning. The marvel of life.

Twice a year, my son’s preschool goes through this ritual. We’re in the farm cycle right now… visiting the pumpkin patch, learning about the things on the farm, and coming to understand that there is a great big God, THE great big God, who loves and protects little old me from the scary things of this world.

Last Wednesday, the first of the eggs hatched… a little black chick lovingly named Blackbird by the Frogs class. Subsequent chicks arrived including a fluffy yellow babe full of promise and dubbed a name of immense proportion… Lightning. My son has been lobbying for weeks that if a fluffy yellow chick should arrive, she should be named after the great symbol of God’s power in the sky. His feelings have been crushed multiple times by his classmates who feel equally strongly about a different name. But in the end, the votes fell Joseph’s way, and Lightning it is… at least for another week before little Lightning heads off to the wide, nameless world of the farm.

On Thursday of last week, eager to see who else had hatched overnight, Joseph and I traipsed up to Ms. Kelly’s office and huddled up to the incubator. One little chick (the aforementioned Lightning) was lively and fluffy and chirping happily. The other, too weak to move, had dried onto the wire mesh of the incubator and was feebly trying to free herself. We worked diligently to loosen her bondage, but even then, her legs were stiff and moving was difficult. That chick’s fate seemed sealed, a fact which thankfully eluded Joseph but which stuck with me all day. On Friday, we brought Blackbird and Lightning home with us for a weekend of babysitting. In texting Ms. Kelly about the dear little chicks, I learned that while another chick made a surprise appearance late Friday, still another had made the effort to emerge and had succumbed to the process. Some live, some die. In solidarity and with a nod to this fact, I sent Ms. Kelly a text from Blackbird and Lightning thanking her for her loving mothering; she was the surrogate mother who cleared away the shells, kept the chicks warm until they were dry, and then carried them safely to their protective plexiglass hutches in the classrooms. Ms. Kelly… a.k.a. Mother Hen.

I saw Ms. Kelly at church on Sunday and shared with her how things were going. I mentioned that I had taken a picture of Winston staring at the chicks, wary and intrigued, eager to sniff, chase, possibly eat whatever they were, those little balls of soft yellow fluff that make that song. Staring them down, barking at them, inviting them to play? That’s my dog. Here’s the picture.

65 lb. beast waiting to snatch up innocent lives.

This morning, Ms. Kelly used the picture in the preschool’s weekly email… “a picture of peace,” she called it. Unbeknownst to the chicks, danger, evil, death lurks beyond the clear, plexiglass walls of their home. Lit by the heat lamp, they are in the light, but out there, who knows what lurks beyond their vision, beyond their sight, beyond their imagination. That plexiglass hutch is like the sheltering arms of the mother hen for these little lives. Impenetrable, strong, an unseen bubble of protection, it is even more than a mother hen. It becomes a metaphor for the way God protects us.

I don’t know where you are in the world right now. Things are seemingly swimming along out here on the west coast, but we are listening with anticipation and dread to the forecasts for the east coast as they prepare for Hurricane Sandy. Friends, family, Compassion Tea members are hunkering down; battening down the hatches; bringing in the toys, garden furniture, and tools; stocking up on water, batteries, food – who knows how long the power will be out. Take shelter, dear ones, take shelter.

It’s not just on the east coast. We hear stories about sex trafficking, about bombings whether they be suicide, drone, or rebel forces, about unrest, high unemployment (think 25% in Spain), about parts of the world where it isn’t safe for children to play, where children can’t play because of ill-health, or because they need to work to support the family, or because they are abused, enslaved, robbed of their independence, safety, and innocence. The world is not safe. Evil lurks just beyond what we can see, danger plays at our shores like the surf before a storm or maybe like the undercurrent we can’t see, the one that wants dearly to pull us under and carry us out to sea.

There’s a verse on my heart today – chick inspired perhaps but nevertheless relevant – a verse I feel compelled to pray over and over today. Matthew 23: 37 “…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings….” God is often portrayed as a mother hen with broad, sheltering wings. The psalmist writes in Psalm 36: 7, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” In Psalm 63: 7, he writes, “Because you are my help I sing in the shadow of your wings.” And in Psalm 57: 1, the psalmist cries out, “Have mercy on me, my God, have mercy on me, for in you I take refuge. I will take refuge in the shadow of your wings until the disaster has passed.” My own favorite verse, Isaiah 40: 31 speaks of wings; “but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

Wherever you are in the world, whether you are peacefully oblivious to the perils surrounding you, unaware of the 65 lb. dog of evil and menace lurking beyond the light or whether you are keenly aware that the world as you know it is about to be rocked in profound ways, may you find shelter in the protection God offers, until the disaster has passed. May God gather you in, shelter you, warm you and provide for your needs. How He longs to. Take shelter, dear friends, take shelter.